Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chapter 1

When he was in elementary school, Jaden Sands had for a time practiced writing with his left hand, in hopes of making himself ambidextrous, but had given it up as being rather less interesting an activity than falling off of the monkey bars on the playground. Now, at 25, he wished he had kept it up, as some left handed dexterity would come in pretty handy. His right hand certainly hadn't been much use since the accident.

Jaden looked at his hand, lifting it up to rest on the small kitchen table as he sat down. You sure wouldn't know to look at it, he thought, but it still gave him the shivers so he turned his gaze over to the rest of his studio apartment. He had only been in the hospital for two or three days – it was hard to tell, since hospital days tend to merge together, and Jaden hadn't exactly been at his best – but he felt like he had been away for an age, and it was good to see familiar space around him again.

His eyes lit on the fish tank, and he realized that no one would have been in to feed his fish, and it was now what? Monday already? Well, if it was Monday, then it had been three days: definitely time to feed the fish. The two dwarf gouramis glided majestically toward the feeding corner of the tank as they saw him approach, as the smaller, striped danios zipped around them more energetically. Jaden reached for the fish food with his right hand, and knocked the jar to the floor.

He sighed. The cap hadn't come off, so no big mess, but this problem was going to take some getting used to. He picked the container up with his left hand this time, braced it against his opposite wrist, and awkwardly took the lid off and sprinkled some flakes into the tank. His right hand stood by, unmoving and seemingly uncaring.

Jaden stood out in the middle of the room and rotated his arms around from the shoulder. His aching muscles complained, but that was nothing to be surprised at. You can hardly expect to be in your car when it gets totaled and not be sore for a few days. That was normal. It would pass. He bent his arms at the elbows: still good. But beyond that was the trouble. Left hand: great shape. Right hand: nothing.

The hand looked absolutely fine. Having been further towards the middle of the car, away from the impact, it had escaped unscathed, without even the scratches and bruises scattered around the left side of Jaden's body. But it wouldn't move. Jaden flexed all the muscles he could remember having in that area, but there was nothing. Using his other hand, he could maneuver the fingers and wrists into various positions, in which they would stay until moved again, like stiff clay. But that was it. Even touching the skin from his forearm on down felt like only the memory of a touch, and not real at all.

Paralysis was the verdict, of course; the doctors named it easily. But it was the "why" rather than the "what" that was more concerning. Some tests had been done, but had failed to find any brain or spinal cord injuries that could have caused it. The hand itself seemed in perfect condition, with no nerve or muscle damage. A few more tests followed, but by this time Jaden was in good enough shape to tell that Dr. Ramiri had been trying to downplay the lack of results, and pass the tests off as purely routine. Eventually he was just referring to it as "standard partial paralysis," as though it was as common as a fever, and didn't need further investigation. Jaden had been too tired still to question or argue, and had let himself be sent home with some physical therapy exercises and a scheduled follow-up appointment.

Muffled shouts came from downstairs. The couple in the apartment below Jaden's were having another one of their fights. They could raise the rafters at times, but this was a bit more subdued than that. More of a standard "Hi, honey, I'm home. How was your day?" sort of yell, with only moderately raised voices and minor expletives. It quieted down after the bang of a pot being slammed onto the stove. The sounds took Jaden's mind back to Friday night, though.

The dance had been good for the most part. A fairly run of the mill Friday Night Waltz up in Palo Alto, but with a few nice cross steps and one particularly fast Viennese waltz that he had enjoyed. The shouting had come afterwards. Elisa had shown up to the dance late, and unequivocally draped over the arm of Marcus, who had for so long been "just a dance partner" in her performance group. She had every right, of course. She and Jaden had been broken up for over a week, and she could date who she liked. Not that that helped Jaden at all.

He had tried to be civil to her after the dance, when he was changing shoes and she passed by and said hello. But the few conversations he had with her these days all tended to derail quickly and this one was no exception. He couldn't even remember what it was that had triggered it anymore. Probably nothing important, or at least nothing that hadn't already been argued out many times. Jaden himself wasn't a shouter, and had no chance of holding his own against Elisa's lungs when she really got going. Marcus pulled her away, though, and Jaden drove home with a nest of eels in his stomach.

The rest of the night Jaden only had on hearsay. He had always heard about how shocks or accidents can erase short term memory of the actual event, but it was still creepy to actually have a blank hole like that in his own recollection. It was on Central Expressway, almost back to Mountain View. A drunk driver, no headlights, probably trying to double the speed limit. A glancing blow that sent both cars spinning. The other driver died instantly, going head on into a tree and flying through his own windshield. Jaden had been luckier and was taken unconscious to the hospital, rather than dead to the morgue.

On that thought, Jaden realized that it was rather morbid of him to be staring vacantly into space in the middle of his apartment, rehashing that night. He shook his head to clear it a bit and went to put on some music to cheer himself up and make it feel more like home again.

He woke up his computer and moved the mouse to the left hand side of the keyboard. When he had first started his current job, a couple weeks of aching wrists had put him in fear of carpal tunnel syndrome, and he had actually gotten fairly good at mousing with either hand, to distribute the workload. So at least he knew he could handle this bit, though it would be a bit slow until he got used to it again. He pulled up iTunes and put the swing music playlist on random. There was some good, cheery, bouncy stuff in there.

Louis Jordan started singing "Never Let Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Hand's Doin'," causing Jaden to give a snort of disgust and almost fling his useless right hand at the keyboard. He caught it in time, though, and managed to carefully aim and lower a finger onto the right arrow key and switch to the next song. "Never let your left hand know" indeed, he thought. Heck, even my brain isn't in on the secret. Indigo Swing came on next, with "Today's the Day I'm Glad I'm Not Dead." Okay, I think I can live with that one.

He just sat and listened for a few minutes, feeling the pulls and turns of the saxophone line, and letting his focus on the music relax him. As he did, his eyes drifted around and out his window, looking at nothing in particular. His view from the second storey was partially blocked by a tree, but he could see out over a small courtyard and walkway to the opposite building in the complex. Some of the units over on that side were larger, and had their own balconies. There was one balcony with a middle-aged man reading a book, another with a veritable jungle of potted plants, and a third which didn't seem to exist at all.

Jaden sat up a bit, distracted from the music now, and rubbed his eyes. He knew there was supposed to be another balcony just there, but somehow he couldn't see it. His eyes strained at their inability to focus. It was a late April evening, with plenty of light still, and the distance was only a matter of twenty yards or so. I'm still just too shaken up, he thought, or something. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again. The balcony was there, just as it should be. An older looking gentleman was folding up some sort of metal equipment and packing it into a case. For a second, he seemed to look directly back at Jaden across the courtyard, as though he knew he was being watched, then he turned and went into his apartment.

Jaden closed the curtains. The last thing he wanted to think about now was something going wrong with his eyes so he concentrated on scrounging together a one handed dinner from the contents of his kitchen.

6 Comments:

At 5:39 AM, Blogger Miriam said...

What a beginning! I love your turns of phrase--his stomach like a nest of eels, touching the forearm and only feeling the memory of touch (I wonder what that's like!), and the balcony which didn't seem to exist at all. I smiled when iTunes played exactly the wrong song, too. I'm feeling very drawn in. Yay you. :)

 
At 6:54 AM, Blogger Frank Gilroy said...

I like the way you're blogging your novel. I had considered doing that for my first Nanowrimo experience this year but my gut feeling was "What if somebody steals my idea." Maybe I'm a little bit too much in love with myself.

 
At 8:21 AM, Blogger Lacey said...

I like it so far! But does the apostrophe in your '," series really count as punctuation if it's part of the word? :P You've picked some great names (I like Malcolm with the inferiority complex), and I look forward to meeting the characters that go with them!

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Trish said...

Wow, what a start! The first sentence was as good as any Douglas Adams has offered up, and I loved the nest of eels, too.

I definitely am sucked in already, speculating on that balcony and all...what happens next?!

 
At 6:11 PM, Blogger CamLundy said...

Great writing! I love your use of adjectives (I think "nest of eels" has already been mentioned enough) and your writing is very clear and descriptive. Stumbled here through Blogger's help, and when I started reading, I couldn't stop!

 
At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read chapter 1 and really enjoyed it. Do you think you should put a comma after the italicized word 'eyes' in the last paragraph?

 

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